Don Gerard chats with Illini Drive

By Daily Illini Staff Report

Editor’s note: The following is a partial transcript from an Illini Drive interview with Don Gerard, Champaign mayor.

Illini Drive: Have you been paying much attention to the Illini this year?

Don Gerard: Oh, absolutely. You know, I’m friends with John Groce. I forced my friendship upon him, and he is great. I think he’s the real deal. I thought Coach (Bruce) Weber, I had a lot of respect for him, but Groce is really one of those guys involved in the community. His kids go to the same public school that my kids went to grade school, which I have a great respect for. Somebody comes into town, dumps their kids into the public schools right in the heart of town — that’s great. He and his wife are just really wonderful people, but I think the guy’s got a passion, a vision. I think people buy in, and he gets a lot out of what he has right now, and I think he has a lot more coming up. I tweeted it the other day, I think the future’s bright. It’s good to see a team playing well at the end of a season instead of falling apart at the end of the season.

ID: What do you make of the freshman class that has come in? You’ve got guys like Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill that have come into the starting lineup.

DG: The hashtag is #NunnBetter, I’m really excited about that guy. I think he’s really fantastic, and I like Nnanna. I think Nnanna slipped under the radar and put up really good numbers last year because no one expected it, and I think he’s taking a lot more. They’ve been focused on him a lot more, to be honest, is my opinion, and he’s had a lot more pressure. But I think he’ll come around and he’s been coming around. He’s had some good games, but yeah, those young guys and the guys coming up, it’s gonna be a dogfight. There’s gonna be a lot of competition. When you have competition among your ranks, you really push it. One example I would give is former Illini coach Wayne McClain is now coaching Central, and my son played on the JV basketball team, but he really likes the coaching side of it, so he’s a student manager on the team. And he said those guys have average talent, same guys from last year, and McClain just outcoaches everybody. Those guys beat the No. 2 team in the state, they beat Centennial that has Michael Finke. First game of the season went into triple overtime, and they have beat some teams that they had no business beating, and they really bought into Wayne. And I see that with Groce and these guys, so the opportunity to take somebody and squeeze every bit of talent out of him, and as your program builds and you start to get guys who have a greater potential, and you just push them to that.

ID: How important is U of I basketball to this community?

DG: I think all of the U of I sports are important. I think people take great pride in volleyball and gymnastics, just all kinds of stuff. I think it’s huge.